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K. J. Cleetus
Concurrent Engineering Research Center
West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia
11.12.1 Communication
11.12.2 Task Coordination
11.12.3 Negotiation/Tradeoff
11.12.4 Data-Sharing
11.12.5 Electronic Design
11.12.6 Process Libraries
Concurrent engineering (CE) was a phenomenon of the 1980s. It arose in the Department of Defense
(DoD) when it was realized that a number of new defense products were being designed without any
thought given at the time of design to whether the design was manufacturable. Lack of consideration
of manufacturability led to many revisions at a late stage when shortcomings of the design were
discovered by the factory.
From this came the notable study of projects in 13 companies that led to a report of the Institute
of Defense Analyses, 1 in which the first definition of concurrent engineering was given:
Concurrent engineering is a systematic approach to the integrated, concurrent design of prod-
ucts and their related processes, including manufacture and support. This approach is intended
to cause the developers, from the outset, to consider all elements of the product life cycle from
conception through disposal, including quality, cost, schedule, and user requirements.
Thereafter, the concept was given currency in many ways. DoD projects came to insist on adherence
to CE principles; contractors had to demonstrate how they would take into account the concerns of
This work was funded in part by DARPA grant number MDA-972-91-J-1022 awarded to the Con-
curring Research Center at West Virginia University.
Mechanical Engineers' Handbook, 2nd ed., Edited by Myer Kutz.
ISBN 0-471-13007-9 © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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manufacturability at the time of design, and in general, how activities usually undertaken late in a
project would be given early consideration. One of the barriers was the need for additional expense
early in the project to form a larger group of people representing downstream perspectives of the
design (manufacturing, maintenance, disposal, etc.). The phasing of DoD development budgets at the
time was not compatible with incurring a higher expenditure early, in the hope that it would be more
than offset by lower development costs later on, because there would be fewer glitches in manufac-
turing, fewer engineering changes, and so on.
The adoption of CE was even more spirited in civilian manufacturing companies. Automotive com-
panies, the civilian aircraft industry, electronics, and other significant sectors of the economy espoused
concurrent engineering with vigor. Product development was the focus of concurrent engineering
when it appeared, and it was noteworthy that the new lessons of CE were fully incorporated into the
then 10-year-old efforts to achieve higher quality in American manufacturing. CE was seen as adding
the time dimension to achieving quality, showing that not only was quality enhanced (the design and
the manufactured reality would be compatible), but the time taken to achieve it could be decreased
by getting all the relevant perspectives to work in concert from the very beginning.
The way in which civilian industry went about CE was not the same everywhere. Some chose to
set up product development under one large roof so that engineers from all disciplines could interact
with each other. The Chrysler Technology Center 2 is a well-known embodiment of this idea. Another
approach to CE emphasized the need to share documents electronically among many people in the
course of a very large project, so that the time-consuming and voluminous documentation could be
developed faster and placed in the hands of the right people as soon as possible.
Quite early in the development of CE, the Concurrent Engineering Research Center (CERC) was set
up by ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (then DARPA, with the D for Defense). When
CERC began examining CE a new, more general definition 3 was put forward:
CE is a systematic approach to integrated product development that emphasizes response to
customer expectations and embodies team values of cooperation, trust and sharing in such a
manner that decision making proceeds with large intervals of parallel working by all life-
cycle perspectives early in the process, synchronized by comparatively brief exchanges to
produce consensus.
According to this definition, CE applies not just to engineering or product development, but to the
general problem of decision-making in any domain; for that purpose, a new process was advocated,
conforming to certain principles. The goal was set as response to customer expectations, a goal that
was expected to pervade the actions of all perspectives at all times, though who the customer was
still needed to be defined for each perspective. Most important of all, the essential means of achieving
CE were set forth: teams of people working together with a shared goal and a set of values that
included openness to sharing information at all levels, especially in a horizontal manner within the
team, trusting that the exploitation of early information would not be to the disadvantage of the
information donor.
The mental picture is of a team composed of all the perspectives of the product being developed.
The team meets together throughout the project; in a sense, the whole process of product development
can be viewed as a series of meetings to share ideas and technical data and plan work, punctuated
by long intervals of individual task accomplishment by members of the team.
At the heart of CE lay some very simple ideas:
Focusing on Customers
• Formulating goals that seek out the customer's input early
• Using metrics to evaluate tasks that are customer-driven
• Tracking changes in customer requirements
Devolution of decision-making on a team selected for the purpose
• Inclusion of all perspectives in the team
• Joint problem-solving
• Willingness to compromise
Fig. 11.1 A CE team.
Working Cooperatively
• Attaining consensus
• Planning early
• Managing tradeoffs
• Communicating regularly
• Sharing knowledge early
• Propagating the influence of one decision on others
• Reducing risk
Improving Processes
• Planning a concurrent style of working and task breakdown among perspectives
• Ability to work without complete data
• Willingness to brook periods of inconsistency
Systems Engineering
• Integrating and automating
No single idea of CE was new in the late 1980s, when the rush began, but putting it all together
resulted in new insights and inspiration for a new approach. The uniqueness of CE lay not so much
in the fundamental insights as in some practical consequences of those insights:
• It defines the right composition of a team by an operational test
• It tries to resolve the conflict between:
• Parallel working and consistency
• Individual empowerment and teamwork
• Early propagation of influence and rigorous system engineering
• It puts emphasis on the process rather than the organization structure
• It posits that all three conflicting goals can be achieved simultaneously:
• Cost reduction
• Quality improvement
• Time speed-up
The contradictions in CE are very real and some of the barriers to adopting it arise from the inability
to reconcile them in a practical way for the routine working of the team. A new set of values has to
be understood and observed by team members. Organizations previously given to a command style
of work performance have to realize first the greater fruits of empowering individuals to exercise
their own initiative, with goals set only at the most general levels possible. From there they have to
learn the additional imperatives implicit in the accountability of individuals to teams.
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Engineers brought up in the classical mold have difficulty in reconciling the demands of parallel
work and rigorous analysis. The former assumes that engineers will work with tentative and incom-
plete data and proceed to develop results that may be overthrown upon critique at the next meeting
when the results are shared. On the other hand, rigorous analysis works sequentially, step by step,
with full information. It is discomfiting to have the usual sequential mode of working set aside in
the interest of faster discovery of conflicts among perspectives. It will even be necessary to develop
new tools and methods to cope with incomplete inputs to perform analyses.
CE has a point of confluence with the newer reengineering tenets: it emphasizes the Process rather
than the Organization structure. Indeed, in the simplest case, CE presents the organization structure
as a team leader with a host of players from different perspectives — a single flat entity. In more
complex cases (such as defense products), there is at best a two-level structure of a team leader
supervising several sub-teams, each responsible for a certain part of the product. CE, in any event,
is a particular way of working; it is not a call to reorganize the company or change the reporting
structure. Therefore, it should be equally applicable to organizations that have the classic structure
of departments, each representing a function, and to organizations (consulting companies are typical)
who frequently have no functional structure at all, but put together teams to service a client drawn
from several specialized individuals.
Though CE was invented in the context of ensuring that the design of a product is manufacturable,
it applies as much to service companies as it does to companies that design and manufacture products.
In services, too, a full range of perspectives should be brought to bear so that every aspect that can
affect the service is allowed to contribute to the solution being developed, for the client. The software
industry is a case in point. Clearly, the users, the system maintenance people, the designers, the
programmers, the test staff, the technical documentation staff, and sometimes even hardware designers
have to work together, in parallel.
Only thus is time saved and quality improved simultaneously. Quality can, of course, be improved
by spending more time, and therefore more money, but how to accomplish it in less time and at less
expense is what CE is all about. In that respect, it takes further and gives new meaning to Deming's
statement "Quality costs less." He was alluding to the consequences of poor quality for the customer
who has to put up with the problem and for the supplier who has to fix it. But CE says that you can
achieve better quality in less time if you start by involving all the perspectives and share information
among them continually so that they can react immediately when any decision seems to have poor
consequences for later stages.
How desirable is CE? In spite of the emphasis on the team, one can agree that the quality of the
company's work is determined to a great extent by the qualities of the individual, such as:
• Diligence in work
• Dedication to quality
• Level of skill
• Repertoire of tools
• Inventiveness
The team is the proper enabler for this individual competence to be raised to a collective level for
tasks that require multiple people. The majority of modern artifacts, no matter how seemingly simple,
involve multiple design and manufacturing technologies and several areas of competence to deliver.
We should look upon the team as the way to deliver a consistent product when the required com-
petence exceeds what any one or two individuals may possess.
Teams, though, result in chaos more often than not. There are many reasons:
• Teams are often a sham, never destined by their originators to coalesce.
• Teams rarely invest enough in achieving a common vision before setting out on the detailed
• Customer focus is more easily stated than subscribed to in practice.
• Teams do not keep practicing and working on team processes.
• Coordination is not given sufficient importance.
• Motivating factors are geared to recognize individual work, rather than team achievement.
• The leader of the team is not up to the job.
It is not easy or mechanical to work in teams and achieve a team identity. Achieving it overnight by
decree is impossible, but without it the CE vision will remain a mirage.
There is a mistaken idea that inventiveness is not encouraged in a team. It is thought that all invention
or discovery results from quiet meditation by an individual who thinks long and hard about a subject
and plays around with many ideas until a happy thought strikes him or her. This view is promoted
by the long history of science and technology, where such, has been the mode of operation. Hence,
people will be tempted to assume that the new mode of teamwork might result in product harmony
and speed, but it will not break new ground or result in anything like a recognizable new invention,
a patent, or a revolutionary product. This view has been overtaken by the sheer complexity of modern
products and the pervasiveness of multiple technologies in the life cycle of single products. It has
become commonplace even in science to have large teams of people working on experiments, whether
it be in genetics, space science, or particle physics.
Wherein lies the source of discovery in such cases? One may recognize that the clash of ideas
can spark new insights when people of like interests but different viewpoints congregate to discuss
and explore a new field. This happens every day at scientific conferences; researchers return from
the best of these gatherings to work at their research with quite new motivations and insights, garnered
from discussions at a conference.
The same thing happens in a team at work continually. Complementary strengths occur in the
persons forming the group, providing the foil needed to make new ideas emerge. The group milieu
also provides the critique that "new" ideas must endure to survive and become "good" ideas. The
cut and thrust of group debate allows ideas to be sifted more quickly.
CE is becoming more widespread. The principles are recognized and companies value it. But they
have discovered:
• CE does not work without a mandate from above.
• CE does not work without a strong team leader.
• CE works best with physical collocation of the entire team.
• Technology-based CE is best achieved by integrating the tools employed by several
For the computer scientist, the most interesting aspect of CE is that a number of new and old
information technologies can be exploited to improve the efficiency of the CE process. As may be
expected, these are the technologies to support collaboration within a group.
11.12.1 Communication
The simplest of these are the technologies of communication, which have undergone a revolution.
E-mail, in use for a quarter of a century, has now become the accustomed medium of communication
among people at technical companies, even between those only a door or two from their working
colleagues. This has been supplemented over the last few years by the appearance of multimedia
mail, allowing complex documents to be exchanged. Simple team communication, ranging from
notices and instructions to requests for information and action items, can be communicated very
effectively by multimedia mail, especially if (as in Lotus Notes, 4 ) the e-mail is given the structure
of a database with templates to display the characteristic formats of different types of communication
within the company.
Multimedia desktop conferencing software 5 has further augmented the possibilities for groups that
need to meet from time to time. Team meetings can now be held over the network, with live graphics,
video if need be, and interaction capabilities for everyone, quite akin to what they would have if
everyone were in the same room. The blackboard at which technical people like to discuss has been
replaced by a virtual "whiteboard" on which anyone can place a drawing and have it made visible
to persons half a continent away on their own screens, who can immediately respond—by voice with
speech packets conveyed by the data network, by modifying the drawing and annotating it for others
to see, by playing a video for the sake of the audience, and so on. The possibilities are limitless, and
even if body warmth is not communicated on wires, all the important details formerly missing in
fax, phone, and so on are now richly present.
The lesson is, however, that if some of this is not captured systematically and made part of a
meeting record, it will be lost for future decision-making. A structured way (decisions, action items,
etc.) of capturing the record will enable building indexes for future reference. Storing the record and
indexing it not only saves the corporate memory of salient events, but also provides a mine of
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